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If Alarm Goes Off It Better Be a Burglar

May 22, 1986|GEORGE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

RANCHO PALOS VERDES — Fed up with a deluge of false burglar alarms that sap limited police resources, the City Council has proposed what may be the toughest false-alarm ordinance in Los Angeles County, according to police and alarm industry officials.

The measure would require a burglar-alarm owner to pay a $50 fine and obtain a permit after the first false alarm. A $100 fine would be levied for the second and $150 fines thereafter. The measure, tentatively approved this week, will become effective in early July if it is approved at the council's June 4 meeting.

"We are trying to reduce false alarms," said City Manager Donald F. Guluzzy. "It is a substantial drain on our limited police manpower. The whole city is subsidizing those few who have burglar alarms. . . . We don't think that is fair."

But the proposed measure was attacked as punitive by a spokesman for the burglar alarm industry, who said milder measures would work and predicted that the ordinance, if adopted unchanged, will discourage homeowners from using alarms to protect themselves against burglary.

Many False Alarms

The rate of false alarms in Rancho Palos Verdes is very high, said Capt. Elmer Omohundro, commander of the Los Angeles County sheriff's station in Lomita, which serves the Palos Verdes municipality.

In 1985, 844 of 885 alarm calls were false--95.4%, he said. Only one suspect was captured as a result of the calls, said Omohundro, who urged the council to vote for the measure. During the first three months of 1986, the rate was even worse: 199 of 202 alarms were false--98.5%.

Guluzzy said the most common reasons cited for false alarms are neighborhood children who set them off, short circuits and other electrical malfunctions, domestic help who inadvertently trigger alarms, and burglars who set off alarms but get away without leaving a trace.

Won't Save Money

Guluzzy computes the cost of answering a burglar alarm at about $60 per call and figures that the cost of answering false burglar alarms between January and October of 1985 was about $43,000.

The city will not save money if false alarms decline, said Becky Martin, a city finance official. However, because two police cars are used on each alarm, fewer alarms will mean better distribution of police resources, she said.

Under the existing ordinance, Rancho Palos Verdes residents are permitted three false alarms without penalties. The fourth in a 12-month period means a $50 fine; the fifth brings a $100 fine, and $250 fines are assessed for the sixth and succeeding false alarms.

Omohundro said Rancho Palos Verdes' proposed ordinance "is a little more stringent than the average ordinance in the South Bay area. Most of them do not necessarily require a license the first time they have a false-alarm call."

James Helms, an attorney who represents the Los Angeles County Fire and Burglar Alarm Assn., said he is unaware of any false-burglar-alarm ordinance as stringent as the one proposed for Rancho Palos Verdes.

"Even the city of Los Angeles ordinance when it was proposed was not that stringent. A punitive ordinance like that is totally uncalled for in today's society when you have people like the Night Stalker. Our opinion is that it is not the proper approach . . . but one that will suppress the homeowners' desire for protection."

Could Ignore Alarms

Helms said the association favors a non-punitive ordinance that permits police departments to ignore alarms from any system that has reported a specified number of false alarms in a 12-month period unless corrective action has been taken.

In Torrance, Assistant City Atty. William G. Quale, said alarm owners are required to pay a licensing fee of about $50 before installation and are forbidden to knowingly turn in a false alarm. The license can be suspended or revoked if more than four false alarms are reported in any fiscal year, he said.

The Long Beach false-alarm ordinance, which is considered one of the strongest in the area, provides for a $52 fine after the fourth false alarm and for $104 fines for succeeding violations. In Culver City, alarm owners are fined $36.50 for each false alarm after the first four in a year.

In Manhattan Beach, the third false alarm in any three months produces a $25 fine. After that it is $50. Crime Prevention Officer Andy Harrod said fines are rarely imposed.

In Hermosa Beach, the city requires a permit for an alarm system and revokes it when a system generates more than four false burglary alarms or two robbery alarms within three months. Owners must pay a $100 fee to re-apply for a permit.

A similar ordinance is in effect in Redondo Beach, where some officials are considering adding a system of fines. Crime Prevention Specialist Larry Manley said he had revoked 22 permits during the last 18 months and said the 35 to 65 false alarms that come in each week take up "a lot of police time."

In 1982, the city of Los Angeles toughened its alarm ordinance and began fining alarm owners $50 per false alarm after the fourth in a year. More than 10 in a 12-month period can lead to suspension or revocation of the alarm permit.

In 1981, the year before the tougher ordinance went into effect, the city received 207,000 burglar-alarm calls, of which 200,000 (97%) were false, according to Det. Hal Hinds, alarm coordinator for the Los Angeles Police Department.

In 1985, the false-alarm rate was still running at 97%, Hinds said, but the overall number has been reduced to 142,000.

"This is still a major drain on police resources. . . . They take up about 18% of the total calls for service," Hinds said.

"We are currently working with the alarm industry on ways to reduce this tremendous burden."

Times staff writer Dean Murphy and community correspondent Ann Johnson contributed to this story.

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